A couple of months back, we posted a sneak preview of from the Ceramics Monthly Working Potters issue (June/July/August 2009). In it, Paul Eshelman and Diana Fayt discussed how they have built successful careers as studio potters (see “A Pottery Paycheck: Expert Insights into Making a Living as a Potter“). Well, we received a lot of good feedback on that one from folks who are trying to do the same. So, we thought we should just go ahead and make this a series on Ceramic Arts Daily.

Today, I am posting the next installment in that series. Philadelphia potter Naomi Cleary explains how she uses the Internet as a major tool in marketing and selling her work. Take it away, Naomi! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

After completing graduate school two years ago, I returned to
Philadelphia to set up a studio. Good timing and a bit of luck provided
cheap live/work space already wired for kilns. I sent emails to every
gallery I could find, with images, résumé, etc., letting them know I
was interested in showing my work. I was surprised to find this an
extremely effective way of soliciting business.

Last year, I shipped work to galleries for shows and for their
shops, sold at indie craft fairs, a big convention center show, through
the Internet and privately through my studio. I am just starting to
figure out my market and still learning what works and what doesn’t.
Keeping good records of all work I send out lets me know which places
sell a lot of cups and which places sell mostly larger items.

After sending to galleries, I am left with dishes that would
normally wait for a spring-cleaning studio sale. Selling online through
Etsy.com, I found a whole new market for my work. The Etsy buyer is
often a younger customer just starting to collect handmade objects.

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I have had varying experiences at craft fairs. Some have been great,
with crowds that understand craft and the handmade object. One in
particular still haunts me. I was placed next to a woman selling hand
painted signs that read “Welcome to Margaritaville” and “Jersey girls
don’t pump gas.” I did not return for the second day of selling.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show was an all around amazing
experience. Getting to set up my own world within the convention center
and to display my work the way I see it fitting into a home versus a
traditional gallery setting was great. I do think I am coming in at the
tail end of the convention show era. With the Internet as a primary
source of communication, you can solicit clients without astronomical
booth fees.

Embracing the Internet as a major marketing tool is the only way my
studio practice can ever sustain me financially. I spend at least
twenty percent of my studio day on the computer, I have a blog, a
Twitter account, website and an Etsy shop. I let people into my world
by posting updates as well as images of works in progress, kilns ready
to be unloaded, the nice clean studio and conversely the overworked
messy studio.

Sacrifices made in order to have a full-time studio practice are
almost entirely financial. I do not have health insurance and struggle
to pay my student loans. I have a truck that is making a terrible noise
that I am choosing to ignore for at least another three months and most
of my socks have holes in the toes. That said, I spend all day making
work in a light-washed studio filled with plants, my collection of
knick-knacks and my dog. I cannot imagine living any other way.

This article appeared in the June/July/August 2009 issue
of Ceramics Monthly.
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Even though I champion the Internet as the new way, I do think we
are living in an increasingly disconnected society. I walk down the
street and struggle to make eye contact with a passerby and a return of
my good morning greeting is painfully rare. I feel disconnected from
crowded city streets where each person’s own reality hinges on their
cell phone.

By making dishes, I hope to connect people, to connect my reality to
yours. I am working to slow the pace of the modern day. I make tumblers
that fit in your car cup holder so you can make coffee and take it with
you. I believe even this small action can change the energy of your
whole day.

The objects I make gain value through use. I challenge the notion of
disposable as better and am working toward a new time where plastic is
out and people bake bread, make coffee and use dishes as part of a
healthy ritual of comfort and enjoyment.

The Time It Takes
making/firing: 75%
promoting/selling: 20%
office/bookkeeping: 5%

Where to See More
The Clay Studio
Santa Fe Clay
Greenwich House Pottery
Red Star Studios
Freehand Gallery
Sherrie Gallerie

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